Navigating the ice and snow across the car park, we managed to get back out onto the road, and, although we were now facing away from home,the view that greeted us swept any thought of home from our minds. It was pure magic.
The narrow lane was pretty clear, but it ran through a fairytale forest. Squirrels darted across the road or stopped to drink the snow-melt. Every branch carried a delicate burden of snow. Every blade of grass, every seed-head, every twig highlighted in white against the shadows, or gilded by the morning sun.
The road led us past the bluebell woods that will create a haze of fragrant colour in spring, but for now, the air was redolent with pine and damp earth, and the colours were those of wood, ivy and the copper of old bracken.
I managed to find a place to pull over and, forgetting the boots and gloves again, headed out into the Narnian winter of Ashridge Wood. Nick stayed with the car. Had we known what the morning would bring, he might have worn suitable footwear… but even so, one small hobbit is hardly sufficient support to walk him into winter woods. But he was happy to stand alone with the landscape, surrounded by a beauty he would otherwise not be able to see, while I wandered the forest paths.
There are many truly ancient trees in these woods, and many veteran trees that have stories to tell. Many are older than the country of the soldiers who were stationed here for training in 1944 and who carved the initials of their home states into the bark of a tree, beneath a ‘V’ for victory.
As snow goes, there really wasn’t much… but what was there was perfect. Each tree carried its ephemeral burden in a different way. The holly held out its leaves to be shaped by the meagre weight, The sturdy branches of the oak seemed barely to notice, while the beech and birch held a filigree of silver lace up to the sun, each melting flake creating shimmering, sparkling rainbows that fell to earth as the notes of a silent paean.
The trees seemed to dance with the shadows. There was an uncanny sense of joy in the air that was not just mine… as if the woodland welcomed its frozen robe. The life in the trees was a palpable presence and you could feel the slow awareness wakening from slumber to revel in the moment.
Birch and beech seemed to smile, gracious and graceful… fragile young things, society beauties in their finery. Their song is light, airy, their dance full of laughter.
Venerable oaks looked on from the shadows, they know more of earth than sky and the passing laughter of a morning means less to them than the rhythm of the seasons. Their song is deep and their dance slow and stately. Caught in the moment, I danced with them in the snow.
I could have stayed there all day, but as Nick could not leave the vicinity of the car that would not have been fair. We drove home slowly, watching the magical snowscape give way to damp concrete and ice as we traversed the town. Three hours, thirty miles, three incredible landscapes… well worth the early start.